In her sleep she reaches for my hand

A few days ago at the hour just after midnight, my blue eyed eight year old girl is sleeping next to me as daddy is out of town. She looks so small, yet so big, bundled up among crinkled sheets, the extra duvets and oversize pillows.doggy

Switching off the light to go to sleep myself, I turn to her and, with the help of the moon, can just make out the shape of her head where it meets the pillow and the tiniest of movements in her chest as she breathes little breaths of warm air, a teddy held tightly in the crook of her arm. It is March moonlight magic. And as if that kind of magic isn’t enough, in her sleep, my blue eyed eight year old girl reaches out her hands, finds mine and with a little squeeze tucks it between both of hers. My blue eyed sleeping girl. And the tiny movement that means the world.

So just in case it has not been said enough, I just would like to remind us all…… It is truly the small things that make life big.

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Being housebound – a small blessing in disguise

In the last few weeks I have spent an unusual amount of time at home as a small health issue has prevented me from moving about much. Stillness not being one of my strengths, it was very frustrating at first, leaving me fairly restless and impatient and mostly thinking what a waste of time. As the days have gone by and having settled into a different and slower pace, a few surprises have “surprisingly” revealed themselves.

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Did you know for example that if you are housebound and there is absolutely no agenda for the day, it can simply go into a kind of flow mode where thoughts can just come and go, kids can curl up on your lap for random chats and pancake dinner feels one hundred percent appropriate? Or did you know for example that suddenly you are presented with that very rare opportunity of discovering new things to do with your hands and attend to some of those projects you have said you will do some day, when you have got spare time. Like 10 years’ worth of photo albums, making pompom garlands, researching new recipes and summer holiday destinations and the perfect colour for the poor hallway wall that has been left unpainted for an unmentionable number of years?

Stillness, after all, is not so bad seen in this light. In fact, I think I may just go ahead and plan some more agenda free, housebound days for us all. Making sure first, of course, that the cupboards are well stocked with ingredients for pancakes!

Let’s not race without a finishing line.

When we are busy, the speed and flurry of our thoughts often leads our minds to be somewhere far ahead of where we are physically. I picture this as a running track where the participants are trying to catch up with their brains, who have taken a clear lead in the race.

This kind of racing is in itself not a problem, as long as there is a finishing line. A point where your thinking is once again reined in, back in the here and now, allowing your body and your mind to be in the same place at the same time. However, the opposite can sometime end up being a way of living. As if someone accidentally forgot to paint a finishing line on the track and we therefore end up never being fully present in our own bodies. I think I spent a lot of time like that during my “corporate” years, but that fortunately seems like a long time ago. An earlier conversation today, though, got me thinking about how we can best go about turning the race around or perhaps prevent the race from taking place at all.

Naturally there are always things in your external environment you can do, like tell your boss that you are too stretched, cancel Christmas this year, delay stuff on your to-do list, lower your criteria for the outcome (as in deliver 80% instead of 100%). Those are some options.

IMG_2685Another is to practice noticing the little things. To hit the pause button, even just for the briefest of moments. To notice what the water from the shower feels like on your skin, what the tea in your mouth tastes like. Notice the many different colours in the eyes of your children or the small, still slightly pink, z shaped scar just under the hairline, 4 inches away from the dot shaped scar, that was once a chicken pox. Notice the hues of the leaves, the smell of the food you are cooking or of the bar of soap in your hands. For a brief moment, pause and pay attention to the sounds around you, the voices, the humming, the ticking. Notice the feel of your duvet as you tuck yourself in bed. The weather as it meets your cheeks.

Just practise. Pause. Notice. Be. And somehow that other race, becomes a race not worth running. At least unless we can be certain that somebody remembered to paint that very important finishing line.

Perhaps not J.K. Rowling, BUT…

So there we were. One hundred and five of us. Give and take a few. Oil rig workers, corporate lawyers, physiotherapists, opera singers, dentists, florists, doctors, dancers and DJ’s. Some stay-at-home-mums like me and some coaches, too. There we were in a very important looking conference room in an important looking Hotel business centre.

And there at the front of that very important looking conference room stood a world class trainer, asking us to get into groups of three, to each choose a random object like a hat, a mouse, a truck. Just an object. Just a word.

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“For the next hour or so” the world class trainer said, “you will first pass your word to the person standing on your left and then that person will proceed to tell you a story that involves your object in some way”.

Give and take a few, one hundred and five hearts skipped a beat. Did he just say tell a story? Did he really say ONE hour? And the room filled up with a peculiar sound, a bit like a huff, like ha and ohh expressed in one breath. Surely, he didn’t say that!

But yes he did. And because we all knew this man to be very wise, we did as we were told. We got into groups, we passed our word and we told stories. And, give and take a few, one hundred and five of us loved it!

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To have someone tell you a story….. it feels like that one time you were reunited with your so-very-missed best friend, like the time someone gave you that special little trinket, you didn’t know you would treasure forever.

And to top it up, we agreed, there was something completely liberating about creating a story without any preparation. Without a plan or a plot, without predefined characters or a fixed context. A free flowing story that not even the story teller knew until the words were spoken. The trick was to not try. To just let one word, one sentence follow the next. Without any filters or editing. Just move your lips, follow the word and let be. Magical. And even more magical, when one hundred and five bankers and DJ’s and teachers and dentists let go of a long held belief, that they couldn’t possibly tell a story just like that. Give and take a few, of course.

So if one day you are being asked if you want to listen to a story,  shout yes and pay close attention. And if one day your are being asked if you would like to tell someone a story, leave the books on their shelves, begin to move your lips and simply follow that first word with another. And another. And another. No filters. No editing. Just be…. a story teller.

The little miracles

Right at this moment someone, somewhere, is probably breathing a sigh filled with relief and joy while tightly holding on to a supporting hand as they get an all clear from a doctor. Someone, somewhere, is most likely, right at this minute, being warmly greeted to their new job by new colleagues and a seed planted for good times ahead and lifelong, nurturing friendships. Somewhere, someone is perhaps being born today, who will grow up and compose music that will reach my ear and deeply touch my soul when I am watching my grandchildren, wrinkled as prune, in a chair by the sea. Perhaps someone, somewhere near, maybe just down the road from here, decided to give up alcohol as a way of numbing their heart and will go on to blossom and help someone else do the same.

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Little everyday miracles that do not make headlines. So immensely treasured when happening right next to you. So easy to lose sight of, when they are not. Let’s bear these in mind as the daily news continue to describe life as something that generally seems to go wrong. There is so much good happening every day. For you. For me. For someone else. Somewhere. Everywhere.

Cherries on a rainy day

Round about now the “I am so looking forward to my summer holiday” statement begins to pop up here and there and in the weeks ahead the frequency will grow and wriggle its way into every street corner conversation with voices beginning to carry a higher note of urgency and increased longing.

There is no harm in that, really. As a matter of fact it is quite nice to have something to look forward to, right? Yes, right…..but!! There is a but, and it is about wishing time away. It is about us sometimes focusing much too much on the destination and forgetting all about enjoying the journey. I think it is something we are all guilty of at times. Perhaps in relation to our summer holiday or a goal at work or perhaps when we dream of the day our child learns a particular skill that means we no longer need to carry that one for them. Or how about the classic one about dreaming of your retirement.

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The “but” is about living and enjoying as much as possible in the present moment and not having our attention placed somewhere out there in the future. It is about doing that despite whatever is going on, whatever challenges we are facing. To do so requires that we know ourselves well, that we know what we can do, to be at our best. In other words we need to know how we can nourish ourselves in the best possible way. To stay resourceful and in the present as much as possible. Despite. And especially in times of challenge.

Sometimes nourishing ourselves can be as simple as stopping to admire how the sun catches on dark red cherries or ensuring that we place our head softly on a pillow by 9pm three nights in a row. Sometimes it is about finding moments of quiet or moments to dance or moments to disappear in a story about faraway lands. Sometimes it is about surrounding ourself with supportive minds or finding a pair of helping hands. Just for an hour or two. And maybe it is something else. No one can know, but you.

So from now on let’s all pay attention and make sure we notice. It is knowledge well worth having. No just on a rainy day, but every day of every week of every month….

Which reminds me. Those beautiful cherries are waiting in my kitchen….!

Before they go to sleep

It may be feeling there is not enough time to play combined with a lingering sadness from falling out with a friend. Perhaps the formation of the letter T is deemed annoyingly tricky or drawings failing to meet expectations. Perhaps it is frustration over too many and too sharp words from a parent about the importance of something as boring as  brushing hair or teeth or simply having to adjust to a new teacher. Or just a pure need for more air warmed by the sun, bare feet, a break.

Over the past weeks, we noticed that something was slightly different with both of our children. There seemed to be a growing presence of unexpected warm tears and at the end of the day, when taking stock of their stories, there was definitely more mentioning of “bad” things than good.

Amplifying the amount of proper attentive listening we offer as parents and providing an assortment of possible options as well as explicit advice on how to navigate their world, I am hopeful, will make a difference to how they perceive their days. However I believe that perhaps the most impactful thing we can do is this; every night before they drift off to sleep we not only encourage but “force” them to come up with at least 5 good things that has happened that day. 5 little or 5 big things. It doesn’t really matter as long as the experience is labelled “good”.

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It unmistakeably sends them off to sleep in a better state. But not only that. Right now their brains seem to be scanning too much for the “bad”. This little “5 good things a day” exercise will over time become a habit – a habit where noticing and collecting more and more of the “good” runs automatically. And if ever there was a habit I would love my kids to have and one I would willingly give my right arm for, it is that one. Scanning for the good. Now an essential part of saying “Good night” in this house.